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HEALTH How to treat boils

Bring it to a boil

Skin Specialist
Bernie Fahy

Life is hard enough without your skin rebelling. While many skin afflictions are more serious, an unsightly, painful boil can not only be extremely uncomfortable, it can affect your self-esteem and, if one or more appears on your face, have you reaching for the brown paper bag.
The good news is that there a little bit of knowledge about the causes and treatments can go a long way toward keeping them at bay.

Boils, medically referred to as furuncles, are caused by inflammation of the hair follicles. Staphylococus aureus or ‘staph’ is a strain of bacteria that lives on the skin surface. A tiny cut can allow the bacteria to enter the follicle and cause outbreak. This can commonly occur whilst shaving or bathing.
Health can also be a factor in this skin condition. Immune system disorders, malnutrition and poor personal hygiene can create ideal conditions for boils to appear.
Typical areas of inflammation include the groin, neck, armpit and buttocks. Boils appearing on the eye area are known as styes. If a group of hair follicles presents with symptoms it is termed a carbuncle.
Bacteria can become trapped with heat and pressure. Tight fitting clothing should be avoided and sharing garments is also risky. Towels, bedding and clothing of a boil sufferer should be washed separately at a hot temperature.
Obesity can trigger a boil outbreak as pressure and sweat in folds of skin can exacerbate the condition.
High levels of toxins within the body can cause flare up. Consumption of garlic is recommended as it has cleansing properties. Water, Vitamins A and E are also beneficial. Echinacea has anti-inflammatory properties. Always seek professional advice when considering supplementation.


First indications would include a throbbing sensation in and around the infected area. Redness and swelling ensues with, fluid filling the area resulting in a head of white or yellow.
In severe cases, multiple boils may develop with onset of fever and swollen lymph nodes. A recurring boil is termed as chronic furunculosis.
Itching may occur as symptoms develop and unpleasant odours may even be emitted due to the toxic bacteria present at the site of infection.

Prescription medication is available, particularly if the outbreak is a result of MRSA exposure. MRSA speeds up the rate of infection and must be treated swiftly by medical professionals.
In lesser cases, there are a variety of alternative methods in treating boil outbreak.
Epsom salts (magnesium sulphite) can be mixed with water to form a paste. Applied to the area it will prevent bacteria growth, absorb the pus and dry the area naturally.
A compress with hot water on sterilised towelling can clean the area, relieve pain and hasten the draining of fluid.
Warm thyme or camomile tea can provide excellent effective relief when hot and applied with towelling. Thyme has natural antiseptic qualities and camomile is anti-inflammatory. A hot teabag can act as a small compress and the warm leaf of a cabbage wrapped in gauze can draw the boil naturally.
In difficult areas, soaking in a hot bath with Epsom salts is excellent. Remember to thoroughly dry the affected area, however, as bacteria thrive in moist conditions. Once the boil is burst, soak a flannel in warm salt water and apply to the area to disinfect the skin surface. Over the next three days repeat this process.
Tea tree oil can also act as an effective antiseptic when applied to the infection.
In most cases, boils can be treated effectively. With diligence and vigilance, boils will no longer rear their ugly heads…

Bernie Fahy
works in Ballinrobe, Westport and Galway. She can be contacted at 086 2220125 or For more information, visit